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Norway: an Eden with wifi (ft.com)
161 points by bleakgadfly on Nov 19, 2011 | hide | past | web | favorite | 100 comments

We still complain.

About the high prices. How short the summer is. The cold. The rain. The snow. All the people on welfare. That we can't buy beer after 18:00 om weekdays and 20:00 on Saturdays (and not at all on Sundays).

Norway might not be very exciting, though. After all, we're only 5 million people, which is like half of Paris.

Although I don't work there anymore, Opera is hiring[0], and it has a multinational workforce and English is the working language.

Other benefits not mentioned in the article is 5 weeks paid vacation and Norwegian management style[1].

[0]: http://www.opera.com/company/jobs/ [1]: http://www.worldbusinessculture.com/Norwegian-Management-Sty...

Honestly I have never failed to meet people complaining about prices anywhere and as far as weather goes even the Russians and Lithuanians seem to do that.

That being said I wish I was a Finnish taxi driver in Norway instead of a Finnish taxi driver in Finland. ;(

Slightly (or completely) off-topic but you really are a taxi driver? I'm curious why you read HN and how you found it.

I'm a presenter on an FM radio station and I read HN daily.

My work is in a medium many people here would consider to be irrelevant, or even dying.

I'm interested in the world outside my current narrow field of work, I'm interested in how the concepts and ideas discussed here can help my medium stay relevant in this age, and I'm interested in the careers of the future.

My current work won't last forever, I know that, and the more I know now, the better-prepared I'll be.

For the same reason that pizza delivery drivers (ahem) do. The Internet is wide open, and even aspirational hackers and wantrapreneurs can benefit from lessons learned. I read pg's essays starting in 2006.

I try to convert everyone I know to some of the topics found here, it's indeed very useful mainly in times like these where a job is something not available for everyone. I really like seeing all these different people reading HN.

My taxi driver two weeks ago turned out to be a retired IT manager, who liked to have something to do outside of the house, so had three shifts/week lined up.

I was surprised too!

I meant to vote you up and hit the wrong arrow. Sorry :(

I see this a fair bit and wonder if moving the arrows further apart (formally by PG or using GreaseMonkey in the interim) has been discussed?

I don't have any down arrows, otherwise I would post code instead of just a suggestion.

I absolutely would love to see the arrows resized when viewing using a mobile device.

The solution is not "make it harder to make a mistake" but rather make it possible to change your vote (like Reddit).

Hah, I've even heard people complaining about the weather here in the Silicon Valley. That and real estate prices, but the latter complaints are warranted.

I lived in San Diego before I moved to Mountain View, and I can confirm that the weather here is indeed horrid. :)

Are you expressing surprise that Russians complain about Russian weather, that Russians complain about Finnish weather or that Russians complain about Norwegian weather?

None of those seems surprising since all those countries are, at least in part, cold, gloomy and snowy.

Cote d'Azur, in South France, is arguably the most marvelous place in the world, for its cuisine, its weather, its landscape, etc. (I guess many of the most wealthy people on Earth live there.) I had some local friends there and spent some days with them: They did complain a lot about the weather, and would not go out of the house if the wind was slightly stronger than adequate, or if there was one slight possibility of a thin cloud veiling the sun for some minute in the afternoon.

I once flew from Dali, Yunnan to Chengdu, Sichuan. From the plane's window we saw the moment we entered the enormous, province-sized sea of gray clouds over the Sichuan basin, leaving behind us blue sky and sunny hills. At the airport, the Sichuanese people said weather was really much better here. They actually prefer year-long heavy gray sky!

No kidding.

People complaining about their weather is not related at all to the quality of their local weather, which is not easy to define anyway. It is more a consequence of their way to see things. (Currently reading Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, it resonates...)

I have to ask, how hard would it be for an American to get a job in Norway (lets say at Opera) and move their family there?

Probably not that hard. However you'd probably be going down a lot in salary, the top 95th percentile for people with masters in technical subjects is around 800 000 NOK or 138 000 usd, but the average is around 550 000.

Considering a cheap apartment with 2 bedrooms costs minimum 2 000 000 nok.

A bus ticket starts at 28 nok about 5 usd.

You might also want to consider the 35 days of payed holiday that you get, the generous parenting leaves and healthcare and pension packages, as well as the higher tax :)

It's only 25 days, or 4 weeks and 1 day. The payment part is just a percentage of what you earned the previous year. So the first year I start working after college I will not get paid during my holidays.

Parenting leaves are very important since it is assumed that women should work and not stay home with the children. We also have subsidized kindergartens.

Healthcare is fair. However we have pretty much no dental and you only get subsidized medication if you need medication for more than 3 months.

Pension is ok, however it's just an economical model where you deduct peoples salaries and force them to save money.

And yes, taxes are very high:

25% VAT

High income tax

Wealth tax and also housing tax

25 days is the legal minimum. My employer gives 30 days paid vacation. Some companies also handle holiday pay slightly differently (while still complying with the law), so it's possible to get paid while you are on vacation - I did.

You have to have a lot of money before the wealth tax hits you, and it's quite low anyway (if you have enough money that the wealth tax will hit you, you can earn more in interest having the money sitting in a bank account than you will be paying).

IT workers are in demand in Norway, so if you're skilled, it's generally not too hard to get a job here. And the pay is decent - sure you might find some jobs that pay more in the States, but you're not going to starve here. My pay actually jumped by about 50% when I moved here.

Things are more expensive here, of course, but not everything is a lot more expensive - renting an apartment here is similar to prices you'd expect in New York. I've never had a problem with healthcare, but off hand I don't know any company that provides dental coverage or vision plans.

The hardest part is the language. --Everyone can speak English here, but, like anywhere, the more of the local language you speak, the easier it is.

Opera does have a few Americans working there, including at least one who moved his entire family there (even his dogs, I believe).

Yes, you'd might go down in salary, as hmottestad mentions, so there are pros and cons. People do live fine here on their salaries, so I don't think it would be a problem.

All of your negative points remind me of Finland. Perhaps all of us Nordic folk suffer from some von Trier-ish ailment, where we focus on what's wrong instead of how good we have it here.

Oddly, from what I can tell, von Trier's native Denmark doesn't seem to suffer from it: it seems to always top lists of people happy with their country's situation, and talking in person to Danes, it is nearly impossible to get anyone to admit that there's anything non-great about Denmark...

It is very common for people to complain in Denmark. I left the country, but if you want I can still complain about it ;)

Hmm, maybe I get a different view because I'm a foreigner living in Denmark, but the Danes I know seem strangely patriotic! Not necessarily in a nationalist way, but in a way that's sort of civic-minded and non-cynical: proud to be Danish and think that the way things are done in Denmark is generally a good way to do them. Very different than most people I knew in U.S. universities, who were very cynical about the U.S. society/government.

Imposing a nation-wide "fat tax" is definitely something Denmark does wrong. Folks who regularly consume foods high in saturated fats will be penalized -- presumably based off fat-phobic, bunk science.


You write "civic-minded" and "non-cynical", I read "nationalist" and "naive" ;) But perhaps I am cynical. Are the Danes you know students?

Among the minority in Denmark that works full time in the private sector, there is discontent with how the system works.

Hi, I'm Klaus from Denmark. We have obviously not met. ;)

Though not important to the essence of your post, I would like to point out that beer is sold until 20:00 on weekdays and 18:00 on Saturdays, not the other way around.

Why do you complain about people in welfare?

(I think it's a good thing that a country provides welfare to its people like Norway does.)

I've lived in a country with good social services and one with less good social services. They both have their ups and downs. The problem with social services as a system, is the same problem as with any system: people game it.

I assume in Norway it's no different. Employed feel that the [some] of the unemployed are lazy and taking advantage of the system.

It's worth a mention that this is a common complaint in the UK. We've even had a few government ads run railing against "benefits fraud."

The bad behaviours it encourages: having another child to receive state support, don't look for jobs if you expect to be paid less than the what the govt pays unemployed folks, etc.

Some people take advantage of it. People who don't use it might feel like they're paying for lazy bums. Personally I like to think most people aren't on welfare voluntarily.

I recently read somewhere that Norwegians are some of the most gullible people in the world though. YMMV.

You're probably justified in your complaints about prices; Norway has higher prices than almost anywhere in Europe.

Norway, and Oslo in particular, is one of the most expensive places in the world, and prices are often discussed in the media. However, I read recently that although we like to complain about food prices, they are not very high when compared to our income.

Of course, the Big Mac index clearly shows that food can be very expensive. In general, all fast food is expensive. This is probably in part because there's no such thing as cheap labor here.

Remarkable story of an Iraqi geologist who helped Norway spread the oil wealth around:


> “We’ve become spoiled,” one Norwegian told me. “Lazy,” said another. “Petroholics,” diagnosed a third."

Does the Norwegian society as a whole feel this way? What about other oil-prosperous small countries such as the Emirates or Kuwait? Are the cases comparables?

What are the Norwegian govt plans for the long-time future when their oil is over? (it's long for that, i know).

"What about other oil-prosperous small countries such as the Emirates or Kuwait?"

For a long time, when a country became rich through oil, there were two paths. One was a fascist socialism in which the population was bought off with the proceeds, non-jobs flourished and foreigners did all the actual work (many of who were effectively slave labour). This is most of the oil-rich middle-east.

The other model is, horrifyingly, even less admirable. A handful at the top take everything, sell their souls to foreign oil giants, and everyone else is screwed over. This is Nigeria and chums.

Norway is the third option. Norway ploughs the money into a sovereign wealth fund, with long term plans. They've become world experts in getting "difficult" oil out of the wells which will see their services increasingly in demand around the world. Norway is a charming country to live in, despite being cursed with oil.

One of the leaders of the new Libyan government was interviewed on BBC Radio 4 and he was asked what country he would like Libya to be like in the future - his answer was Norway.

[Note - both countries have populations of about 5 million]

"Norway is the third option. Norway ploughs the money into a sovereign wealth fund"

The older I get the more impressed I become with how this was, and is, handled. Especially when you see how it could have tourned out ..

And almost did. Until the late 1980s/early 1990s they just squandered the money like the UK did, running large deficits. But they turned things around then.

Can we hire their government to come over here and steer for a little bit?

As soon as we find comparable oil wealth.

The UK had plenty of income from the North Sea - the difference being we squandered it and the Norwegians treated it as a long term investment:


There's a fourth option, where the country gorges on the short term flood of cash and easy access to oil and gas, which keeps taxes artificially low. The UK enjoyed the same benefits as Norway but went down this route instead - to a point where natural gas is now being shipped from South America to boost the reducing North Sea output.

To my mind, there's a difference in the relative size of the oil windfall. The UK has over ten times the population of Norway, so in effect the sudden cash income just doesn't compare to the Norwegian experience. The UK enjoyed similar benefits in absolute terms, but per capita it was much, much less. For the UK, it wasn't a game-changer, but for Norway etc, it was. The UK did not become "rich through oil", but Norway did.

The UK was in a bit of a crisis in the late 70s, early 80s - at risk of becoming bankrupt from the reliance on unreliable coal and imported oil.

That's the main reason why I think the North Sea reserves were gorged. A major shift was made to gas generated electricity (as well as being plumbed directly into homes) and a long term hope that nuclear was the future, which hasn't happened yet.

It essentially got the country through the 80s and 90s, and allowed a difficult transition towards services in time for globalisation.

That transition to financial services worked out well!

Indeed. Though manufacturing for anything other than the high end had little chance of succeeding due to East Asia and Eastern Europe. It will eventually return once oil prices reach a certain level.

Alaska is model one. Texas is model two.

That's a good question. I don't think most Norwegians think of themselves as spoiled. A lot of people here wonder what we'll do after all the oil has been extracted. There are some concerns that Norway has "Dutch disease", but the government tries to prevent it. The government has given free education a very high priority, so there is a hope that investing in people's education will be part of the answer.

However, everything is very expensive here, and starting tech startups is difficult at the moment.

To start, they seem to have invested heavily in renewable energy sources. Citing Wikipedia: "Electricity generation in Norway is almost entirely from hydroelectric power plants."

I believe that's more than you can say for any other country and it's one of the best ways to invest oil money I'd say.

That predates the discovery of oil. A significant portion of the major hydroelectric power plants were built around 1910. We didn't have much coal, but our country looks like this:


The town on the picture (Odda, Hordaland) was a major center of industry, thanks to the cheap power.

That's mostly because we have the opportunity to run hydroelectric plants very easily, with all our mountains and water.

You know, you could say the same about lots of other countries and they don't do it, they invest in highways and other kinds of waste. Think of my home country, Portugal: we have mountains and rivers everywhere, we have the ocean, we have Europe's most dry land (Alentejo) and how much of our energy is renewable? 45%. And in 2005 it was around 15%. It could have been like Norway since the nineties...

New Zealand is similar - the majority of electricity generation is hydro. We're similar in that we have a lot of mountains and a small population.

What are the Norwegian govt plans for the long-time future when their oil is over?

second largest sovereign fund in the world: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sovereign_wealth_fund#Largest_s...

plus all the investments into its' own people like mentioned in the article.

(it's long for that, i know).

not at all, Norway's oil is pretty much gone http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2011-03-03/norway-drillers-hit...

What about other oil-prosperous small countries such as the Emirates or Kuwait? Are the cases comparables?

Totally different. You know, in UAE they build skyscrapers just because they can. In Manhattan they built skyscrapers because there was no more land available to build on...


Norway is probably only country in the world that was able to dodge Dutch disease.

Actually Statoil (biggest Norwegian oil company, partly Government own, mentioned in the Bloomberg article above) just found a major oil reserve in the North Sea this autumn. The forecast is 0.9 to 1.5 billion barrels, and is the largest found in the North Sea ever

I lived and worked in Oslo, Norway for the three last years. It was nice, but eventually got boring. And the dark winters were depressive.

Living in Berlin now, feels like a much more vivid city with a much more heterogenous society. Norway is very collectivistic.

For me it's the other way around. I grew up in Mexico, now working & living in Berlin, but I'd like to travel north and if possible stay for a time in Norway.

I agree, I think rumours of a Norwegian utopia are greatly exaggerated.

Is anyone really serious when they evince Scandanavia-envy?

"From Norway, even Sweden now looks gritty and hardscrabble, like something out of a Stieg Larsson novel."

Now, this is a case of national pride of course, but it really sounds like the author has heard just one side of a story here. My impression is that Sweden and Norway (like the other Scandinavian countries) are about equal in most aspects. That's not wrong, is it?

Right. (Swede here)

Norway and Sweden are virtually identical as far as I can tell. Though I haven't lived there, I work with norwegians and visit a few times a year since 2008.

Standard of living might be a bit higher, but not drastically.

Naturally, Salaries are a lot lower in Sweden, but so are the prices. Food prices in Norway are often double, rarely less than 150%.

One interesting detail is infrastructure. Due to all the mountains and fjords, building highways in Norway is super expensive. Lots of tunnels. Smaller roads tend to follow the natural, winding shape of the land, making them slow and long.

I've got tons of Swedish friends, some of who live in Oslo. They basically say that you can speak Swedish in Oslo nowadays because of how many Swedes have immigrated there. Why? Because there are better jobs and they pay more.

The same is true in every major scandinavian country. I think it's a case of several factors conspiring:

1. There are more swedes in scandinavia than there are any other nationality.

2. Young people move to the cities to find work.

3. Youth unemployment rates are high across scandinavia.

4. Ease of mobility across the scandinavian cultures. Olso in particular is close to sweden, and swedes understand norwegian with very little effort (and vice versa).

Thus, you have young swedes moving into all of the larger cities in scandinavia, including Stockholm, Malmö and Gothenburg.

"3. Youth unemployment rates are high across scandinavia."

No, there's a clear difference between Sweden/Finland and Norway/Denmark.


I'd say the data backs my statement with the exception of Norway, but yes, especially high in Sweden and Finland.

and swedes understand norwegian with very little effort (and vice versa).

Debatable ;) But yes transitioning from Swedish to Norwegian and Danish is much easier than say, French to Italian.

And if all else fails, there is allways english.

My reply to another thread a while ago:


Copenhagen is pretty much the same - I think the past few times I've flown out of CPH, everyone I've spoken to in a service position at the airport (check-in, bar, restaurant, gate) were actually Swedish.

From the GDP per capita adjusted by PPP you're right, there's not that huge a difference betweeen them (52k vs. 38k):


Whereas the nominal GDP per capita is huge (84k vs. 49k in Sweden and 47k in the US)


So yes, $84,000 is nice, but it's much much nicer in Sweden than in Norway in terms of what you can buy with it

Whereas Norway was able to build its wealth on oil, Sweden -- having only a tiny, tiny bit of oil -- had to build their country the hard way, with industry and commerce.

And they are very, very good at it. As a result, Sweden seems comparatively more active, in terms of industry and business in general. They have a lively entrepreneurial spirit, and a lively Internet startup scene. Norway is still lagging in this area, perhaps as a result of having become docile by not having to fight for its economy.

In terms of living standards, Norway and Sweden are on the same level, and at roughly the same gini index. Sweden's GDP is about 30% higher, but Norway's is 45% higher per capita.

While it's true that Sweden doesn't have oil, it does have considerable natural resources: mining, forestry, and hydroelectric-power account for about 30% of its exports (about 350 billion SEK = US $50 billion). It's the 2nd-largest producer of wood and paper products after Canada, I believe, and mining's traditionally been a huge part of the economy, though it's less important now than it was some decades ago.

Absolutely. But if you look at exports, you will also see that Sweden produces a huge amount of stuff. Chemicals, machinery, transport, cars, telecomms etc. Its exports in those areas are almost the size of Norway's petro business. Norway has comparatively little manufacturing.

"GDP by activity (2010): Oil and gas 22%; general government 16%; manufacturing, mining, electricity, building and construction 15%; value added tax (VAT), etc. 11%; commodities, vehicle repairs, etc. 7%; communication and transport 4%; agriculture, forestry, and fishing 1%; other services (commercial, housing, financial, private health/education, hotel and catering, etc.) 24%."


So while manufacturing is smaller sector than services in Norway, it's not negligible at all.

> As a result, Sweden seems comparatively more active, in terms of industry and business in general. They have a lively entrepreneurial spirit, and a lively Internet startup scene.

You can definitely see that in the indie gaming scene: quite a few well known (and good) Swedish studios (Mojang of course, but also Arrowhead, developers of Magicka or Frictional, developers of the Penumbra series and Amnesia). Meanwhile I could not tell you of any Norwegian indie game dev, I don't know any (I'm sure they exist, but I don't know them)

Funcom is probably the best known

Also Playfish, I think, that were recently acquired by EA.

Also DICE is based there (Battlefield)

I'd say it's wrong. There are more than 200K Swedes currently residing and working in Norway. Not only young people working no-skill jobs for $140 a day, but also many scientists, IT pros/developers, managers, entrepreneurs.

I've lived and worked in both countries and while Sweden feels like one of the rich US states or parts of EU, Norway has out of this world standard of living. Can give you countless examples.

A neighbour of mine was a single father of three children, the government (NAV) was paying his rent, bills, other expenses, vacation(!), etc. for almost a year. That was social help not based on previous taxes or income.

Most Norwegians (IMH experience) who are serious about gaming would work one year and live the next year on the extremely generous unemployment benefits provided by NAV.

200K swedes? Do you have a reference for that number? I've heard lower numbers. Here's an article (in Norwegian) from 2009 saying it's just under 80 000: http://www.hegnar.no/personlig_okonomi/article391433.ece

Yep, 200K sounds a bit too many: Statistics Norway shows under 70K Scandinavians (not just Swedes) as of 01/01/11 http://ssb.no/emner/02/01/10/innvbef/tab-2011-04-28-08.html

You probably have to add some commuters, but they will hardly change the big picture.

What do you mean when you say "scandinavians in Norway"? If "Scandinavia is a region that includes the three kingdoms of Denmark, Norway and Sweden" that doesn't make sense...

This is Statistics Norway's overview of immigrants by country of origin. So this means that people from Scandinavian, or rather Nordic, countries other than Norway (i.e. Denmark incl. the Faroes and Greenland, Sweden, Finland and Iceland). I can't find a more detailed breakdown right now.

Yeah, numbers got messed in my little brain. It's 200K Pakistanis and 80K Swedes.

(A foreigner living in Norway here.) You can relatively often hear Norwegians joking about Swedes, and vice-versa. So I asked a friend of mine (he's Norwegian) about this "friendly hostility", to which he replied: "Norway has oil, Sweden has industry."

Another, probably little-known fact, [I can't dig out a historical reference -- I remember conversations with people] is that Norway offered Sweden to jointly engage in oil extraction in the early days, which Sweden declined.

Nope, that "we could buy sweden" stuff is just embarrassingly boorish nationalism, or a joke at the expense of boorish nationalists. Everything being equal (and it pretty much is) Norwegians will be marginally richer than swedes and danes as long as the oil money lasts. Marginally being the operative word. (I'm Norwegian)

I've lived most of my 24 years in Norway, but the lack of a proper startup eco-system (successful entrepreneurs, VCs and companies etc.) motivates me to move to Silicon Valley in a few years. Am I stupid, or just adventurous? :p

Living in Norway has its benefits even for startups: (from HN a while back) "In Norway, Start-ups Say Ja to Socialism" http://www.inc.com/magazine/20110201/in-norway-start-ups-say...

But looking out at a foggy and dreary Oslo right now, I'd say the time to be adventurous is when you are 24. Time to go.

I have the opposite opinion. I've never experienced the system first-hand myself, but I know of a few who have. To me, it seems that as long as you have a business idea and actually check if it's possible to maintain, there's a lot of governmental and non-governmental organizations who'll support you financially.

I think Silicon Valley would be harder to start in, if not only for the (seemingly) fierce competition for VCs' money and because you might have to pay for the health insurance of your employees.

At one time, I had similar thoughts e.g you have to move to another place (usually a large city) to be successful in business. Then, I figured out that by whatever billionaire list or financial metric you choose to look at e.g Forbes, FT - nearly all entrepreneurs started out in the city/country they were born in. Travel is obviously good to broaden your experiences in life, but it appears that starting your business in the place you're from is more often the best way to succeed.

what do you think is the reason for this?

My goals is not to become a billionaire, but to build something great, and have fun while doing it. I believe the chances for that are bigger in Silicon Valley than Norway. If I fail, I'll move back and enjoy the wealth and rain.

Yes, if you want to build something in technology (software more precisely) then Silicon Valley is the best place to do this. It has to be said you can build a technology company in Norway; Opera is proof that you can build software, Tandberg is proof you can do hardware.

A story that may be of interest; I used to work for a company called Aker Solutions here in Scotland, which is Norwegian as you probably know. The owner of the company, Kjell Inge Rokke, played to your strengths in Norway right. You are a maritime nation; read oil, gas and seafood. So despite no college education, he went on to work in your country's main industries and now is one of the richest persons in the world.

Looking forward, hydrocarbons are harder than ever to find. You'd imagine that geologists and the oil companies they work for will need amazing software. Importantly, they will be able and willing to pay for it.

The article leaves out the most important aspect of Norwegian society: the distribution of wealth is fairly even. The difference between the affluent and less affluent is fairly small.

On the subject of Norway, I can't resist recommending the brilliant dystopian sci-fi film The Bothersome Man. It complements that essay nicely.

"Still, there are worse places in the world."


(Are there truly places more wealthy/luxurious than this?)

He meant the opposite.

But to answer your question: Liechtenstein and Luxembourg?

So, for all intents and purposes, no... At least, not for anyone who is not already ridiculously rich already and therefore you could live anywhere anyway.

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